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After Putin victory, Russia's Syria stance remains
After Putin's victory, Russia remaining firm in support of Syria's Assad
By The Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) ' Russia dampened hopes Tuesday that elections which returned Vladimir Putin to the presidency would soften Moscow's stance on Syria, as a top diplomat urged the West to press the Syrian opposition to stop fighting Bashar Assad's regime.

Moscow last month blocked a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Damascus' bloody crackdown on the opposition and accused Western powers of fueling the conflict by backing the rebels.

"We are deeply convinced that we are right," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters. "That is why we call on our partners not to adopt a hard-line stance, but to seek compromise, stimulate negotiations and a political process."

Another official at the Foreign Ministry added that calls for a cease-fire should be directed not only at Assad's forces, but also the opposition. The official declined to give his name in line with ministry policy.

The comments coming two days after Putin's election triumph were a blow to speculation that Russia might change its position once the presidential campaign, in which Putin tried to stir support by standing up to the West, was over.

Germany's foreign minister said Monday that he hoped Russia would recognize that it is on "the wrong side of history" and rethink its policy now that Putin was elected.

In Madrid, meanwhile, Spain's foreign ministry said it intends to close its embassy in Syria to protest brutalities carried out by Assad's government.

Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said Spain is aiming to shut the embassy as soon as Tuesday, but the decision depends on the outcome of a meeting of the European Union's Political and Security Committee in Brussels.

He said Spain would maintain two or three diplomats in Syria as part of the EU delegation. Spain recalled its ambassador to Syria last month.

Britain, Canada, France, and the United States have already closed their embassies in Damascus.

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